A Summons to Memphis , by Peter Taylor (Ballantine, $4.95). When a New Yorker receives anguished phone calls from his middle-aged sisters in Tennessee, begging him to return to Memphis to prevent their father from remarrying, he is forced to take a painful journey home -- and into the past. This novel by one of the most revered of living American writers won the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for fiction.
The House of Mirth ,
Madame de Treymes and Three Novellas ,
The Reef ,
Summer , and
The Age of Innocence , by Edith Wharton (Collier/Macmillan, $3.95-$4.95 each). This inexpensive edition of works by America's greatest woman novelist is noteworthy for the excellent introductions by Anita Brookner, Susan Mary Alsop, Louis Auchincloss, Marilyn French and R.W.B. Lewis. Wharton is a sort of limpid Henry James; like him she writes about social customs and psychological motivation. Unlike James, however, Wharton confronts sexuality much more directly, as in The Reef, where a governess met on a train is seduced by a gentleman who has recently proposed to a widow. At the widow's French country house, the governess reappears as an employe, much to the gentleman's consternation. The tension created by the emotional forces let loose in this pastoral setting results in a novel of enormous power and the highest artistry.
The Well , by Elizabeth Jolley (King Penguin, $6.95). Set against a harsh rural Australian landscape, Elizabeth Jolley's most recent and accomplished novel to date weaves a tale of loneliness, sexual attachment and dependence, violence and delusion, the whole modulating into a gothic horror story of chilling understatement. The aging farmer-spinster Hester Harper takes in a young girl, Katherine, as a companion. Life appears idyllic, harmonious, for this odd couple until the night of the accident, when they run down a stranger in their jeep and dispose of his body in the disused well in the back yard. A nightmare of fear and jealousy ensues as Katherine becomes convinced that the man down the well is still alive. Peering down into the storm-filled darkness, Hester finally realizes that in the question of the stranger's existence, as of sexual passion or truth itself, "it is difficult to see anything which is partly and, at times, wholly submerged."
Seven Rivers West , by Edward Hoagland (Penguin, $6.95). "The ice was still going off the river in bobbing tiles and platters when Cecil Roop hooked a snapping turtle as big as a saddle, using a rabbit's foot for bait." The prose, like the turtle, is deliciously snappy in this exuberant tale of a trek to the American Northwest in the 1880s. Cecil Roop, "a skinny, durable-looking man from Massachusetts," is heading West in the hope of capturing a live grizzly bear to show on the vaudeville circuit back East. Cecil and the various eccentric companions he picks up en route undertake a journey of mythic endeavor and extent, braving hostile Indian tribes, turbulent rivers and fearsome grizzlies as Cecil grows increasingly obsessed with tracking down the legendary Bigfoot. Quite apart from its zest as an adventure yarn, the book is notable for its sublime descriptions of wildlife and landscape, Rockies and rapids, the whole "generous geography" of the majestic Northwest.
The Egg and I , by Betty MacDonald (Harper & Row/Perennial, $8.95). There's no repressing Betty MacDonald's good, strong, black humor in her hilarious account of life as the wife of a chicken farmer 50 odd years ago, which does for the American Pacific Northwest what Stella Gibbons did earlier for England in Cold Comfort Farm. From the day of her birth (when her grandmother, "prompted by the same inner urge which made her wear her corsets upside down, rushed across the street and pounded on the door of a veterinary"), Betty MacDonald found life a lark, but at the same time she remained completely candid about the overrated joys of simple country living (no running water, no electricity, two kids and 1,500 chickens is not a recipe for paradise). First published in 1945, The Egg and I quickly became, and remains, a classic of homespun rural Americana.
SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY
Dracula's Blood , selected by Richard Dalby (Inner Traditions/Thorson's Publishers, One Park St. Rochester Vt. 05767, $10.95). Readers who failed to find their blood-lust for vampire stories sated by Alan Ryan's recent Doubleday collection (Vampires: Two Centuries of Great Vampire Stories) should fly to their nearest bookshop for this equally hemoglobin-rich compilation. There is virtually no overlap because Dalby deliberately avoids all the standard classics, so don't expect to find "Carmilla" or "Mrs. Amworth" here. Instead the reader can feast on pieces by Frederick Cowles, Ulric Daubeny, Sabine Baring-Gould, and other writers whose very names sound vampiric. One particularly happy inclusion is "Marsyas in Flanders," a superb story of a crucifix, medieval church politics, and the worship of the Great Wild Man, by the neglected and wonderful Vernon Lee.
The Dictionary of Imaginary Places , by Alberto Manguel and Gianni Guadalupi (Harvest/HBJ, $14.95). A good many readers would rather live in Oz than the U.S.A., dream of visiting Islandia or Earthsea, dread the prospect of a night in Gormenghast castle, and yearn for a good swordfight in Ruritania. Of course, these places only exist in the geography of the imagination, though they have more reality than, say, Timbuctoo. This massive reference book -- now published in an expanded form -- lists dozens of imaginary realms and treats them as though an interested traveler might actually visit them. The editors provide maps, histories, descriptions of the inhabitants, and references for further reading. This accumulation of scholarship -- and the editors have clearly read widely and well in fantasy literature -- recalls the serious critical scrutiny that the Baker Street Irregulars give to the study of the Sherlock Holmes canon. Fun to browse in, this dictionary will also be invaluable to travel agents, especially those who regularly book passengers to Shangri-La, Neverland, Atlantis, Utopia, Middle-Earth, Narnia and Camelot.
Hitler Victorious: Eleven Stories of the German Victory in World War II , edited by Gregory Benford and Martin Harry Greenberg (Berkley, $3.95). Alternate history is one of the most popular subgenres of fantasy: What if Queen Elizabeth had been assassinated and England had reverted to Catholicism? For details, see Keith Roberts' grave and beautiful Pavane. What if the South had won the Civil War? Look for Ward Moore's Bring the Jubilee. What if the Allies had lost the Second World War? Read Philip K. Dick's masterpiece, The Man in the High Castle. This anthology -- prefaced with two insightful essays by Norman Spinrad and Gregory Benford -- gathers some new and several classic short stories on one of the most chilling of history's discarded scenarios: What if Hitler had been victorious? Included here are Hilary Bailey's "The Fall of Frenchy Steiner," David Brin's recent Nebula nominee "Thor Meets Captain America," Cyril Kornbluth's old classic "Two Dooms," and Keith Roberts finest short story, "Weihnachtsabend."